30~

As a Tamil woman,

I am fierce in love,

like all Tamil women are –

when they run towards their lovers

with gritted teeth and dancing hair

*

As a Konkani woman,

my laugh will match your fart

— in loudness and vulgarity

*

As a Malayali woman,

my hair is messy, like a good joke.

— but if you walk into it with all your heart

you might have a good time

*

As a Kannada woman,

I hug tightly

— and when you wake up next to me

on cold November mornings

like this one

I will hug you with all that I have

— and all that I am yet to have

*

As a Hindi woman

I will open doors and windows

— with the longing of a mother

waiting to escape her life

— with the passion of Chameli

waiting to elope with Charandas.

*

As an English woman

I will make pots and pots of tea

and drink them all up

until my belly swells

and I cannot walk

*

Today I am all these women

and we are walking back home-

arm-in-arm

expertly avoiding all the cows in Basavanagudi.

___

At Sixteen

On my 16th birthday, I made myself very happy. I decided it had to be a big deal, regardless of who wanted to make it big and who didn’t. I procured some money from my mother and took myself to Gandhi Bazaar to shop. I knew what I wanted. At 16, I always knew what I wanted with a clarity that was almost aggressive. I have neither the gumption nor the energy to love myself like that or know with clarity, what I want anymore. Somewhere between learning to love other people between 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, and 26, I didn’t love myself enough. Or maybe I thought it wasn’t that important.

At 16, the joy of sitting alone in a coffee shop, reading something was just about enough to make me happy. Between the ages of 17 to 26, I waited for other people to love me like I loved myself. When that didn’t happen, I hated myself and later, them.

So at 15, hours shy of turning 16, I stood outside Perfumer – a fragrance shop and waited, smiling. This was the first gift I would be buying for myself. And for a long time after that, the last. I took a small vial and decided that I liked it. It was a lovely shade of green-blue, colors that appeared on my palette when I mixed the darkest green with the lightest blue in my art class at school. At the counter, I asked for the perfume to be gift-wrapped. I picked the shiniest, the most expensive wrapping paper. It was pink, a color that still reminds me of unexplored freedoms I have chosen not to take because I am too busy doing god knows what.

At home, I lit all the candles I owned on the balcony I rarely used. The walls in my bedroom were a light lavender, the furniture, dark brown. I had chosen these colors from magazines that I had read. Tall, grown up women always seemed to sit comfortably alone on oval-shaped beds, light colored walls and the darkest brown furniture. I was painting, as it were, my independent life with my father’s money.

I waited for the clock to strike at 12:00. Ash was made to look excited because I had whined and whined about this day for months now. I suspect she was glad that in minutes, all the drama would be over and she could go to sleep.

At 12:00, I blew out all the candles on my balcony, picked up my journal and began to write. I drew the number 16 sixteen times on a page before making a list of things I had to accomplish by the next birthday. I picked out my outfit for the next day. A new shirt, a new pair of jeans. I was convinced I would fall in love when I turned 16. And I did. Now that I look back, it is almost mysterious how by the time I had turned 17, I had a boyfriend and at 12:00 am on my 17th birthday, I didn’t do any of the things I did on my 16th. I waited a different kind of wait. A Nokia in my hands, blushing under the covers, I waited for him to call and since that night, I have always celebrated birthdays with regard to who remembers.

I sense now that I’m about to say things like it’s time I go back to being 16 again. While it’s true that some reflection should go that way, I am happy that my birthdays now aren’t all that self-indulgent. It’s the other days I am worried about. Those should probably be more self-indulgent.

 

On my 27th Birthday

I’m afraid I must write this quickly — before I get used to this, before Hyderabad and its roads, EFLU and its trees, its quiet corners become so remarkable that I cannot write about them anymore. So here goes.

At the pre-paid taxi kiosk in Hyderabad airport, the man with the lisp said eeeflu and corrected my efflu when I told him where I wanted to go. I took my slip and waited calmly near Healthy Bites. Goa has done me good, I thought. I started counting the number of ways I could get raped in only after I climbed into 4417 – my ride for the evening. But I stopped thinking about it because I was distracted by the driver’s good looks. When we left the airport, he was on his phone, arguing with his friend to book movie tickets at the PVR in Banjara Hills. I focused all my energy into paying attention to his delicious Telugu. I forgot Allu Arjun, I forgot Arundhati and I remembered how much I love listening to Telugu. Even the empty, stretching highway in the midst of nothingness and the occasional tall building couldn’t distract me. I continued to listen, praying he wouldn’t stop talking.

Within minutes, they had settled their ticket issue and he went back to driving and I went back to being the dog I become when I sit by the window.

A cracker burst somewhere and I saw the orange and the blue throwing their arms open in the air before falling down into a million little arms, and then dissolving into blackness.

I saw actor Nagarjuna on a billboard advertising Kalyan or some such jewellers and wondered how often he saw himself. Later, I imagined him in the back of his long, black car, returning from shooting abroad, sitting a little apart from his wife with nothing but 20 years of marriage in between them, mumbling something to her in the way Telugu men do — their lips barely moving and the words etching out of the corners of their mouth and forming little shapes of clouds and bells.

Little by little I saw Hyderabad from the window. The last time I came here, dad took us to Ramoji Film City, Charminar, and Golconda Fort. Everytime the guide who was showing us around called me Shahzaadi, my dad looked like he wanted to throw something at him.

What I saw tonight is a Hyderabad I didn’t see then or didn’t think to see then. Tonight I saw Hyderabad growing dramatically outside the airport into its Bawarchis and the Mustafa Sweet shops, and its Dulquer Biryani Take Aways. Then I saw it shrinking before we reached Secunderabad in its little Bata shops, and its charming Urdu on the walls. I watched with envy as the driver took sharp turns, avoiding a dozen dividers. The streets were quiet and the shops were busy. There were no addresses written on the shop boards. But then I saw Lakdikapool and remembered the big lake dad took us boating to.

When I entered EFLU, I knew I would like it immediately. N cursed when I told her how beautiful the campus is. She said that when she studied here, the campus was greener and freer.

My red bag, safely tucked under my right arm, I parted with the good looking driver. I saw students walking along the length of the narrow road, singing. I saw a girl laughing with a group of boys, I saw two North-eastern girls standing outside their hostels, wearing knee-length nighties, hugging their friends goodbye. As I made my way into Amrita Pritam Hostel for Women, I glanced at the notice board. One flyer announced the advancement of a Phonetics class. Another said ‘Students to be in their hostels by 11:00 PM’

I let out a silent whoppee and imagined studying here. I had picked out the classes I would take in 5 min, and had prepared my daily schedule in ten. In the lift, I made small talk with the warden. She looked happy when I told her I was from Bangalore. The lift opened and she took me to my room. The walls were white and the marble floor looked wider and brighter because of all the tube lights. She handed me my keys and I made friends with the blue key chain that said ROOM 223.

In the room , there are two tables and I pick the table closest to the balcony, obviously. I throw my bag on the bed, and check out the rest of the room. I already know which the geyser switch is and which lock on my door doesn’t work. I know that my side of the bed has a book shelf on top, which I am already learning to mind when I rise to get up. I am not even thinking about the roommate I may have to make polite conversation with tomorrow.

Sitting here, my legs stretched out, my laptop plugged to the socket on my left; I am already growing used to the noise the Maroon LG fridge is making in the corner.

When I told S and I about this on Whatsapp, I used more exclamations than I have in the past two years.